Swimsuits have been an essential part of my wardrobe since I was a child. I learnt to swim at the age of four and took to the water quite naturally. Today, more than just a necessity, it has become a fashion accessory that can be dressed up in lots of different ways.
Going down swimsuit memory lane throws up some interesting variations. As a kid, of course, one could get away wearing the teeniest bikini (my favourite was a pink polka dotted one with bows that my mom had bought from a trip to San Francisco) and even if you were plump, it would invoke comments such as “ooh, how cute she looks”. Not so today—to say the least, a swimsuit covers none of your flaws and you better be in shape to get into one of those teeny bikinis. Else, the comments or the grimaces they invoke when you are in front of the mirror can make even the hardest nut put away the Tim Tams and get right onto the treadmill.
I reluctantly recall my teenage fashion faux pas years when I didn’t think twice about frolicking in one-piece swimsuits which had a frilly attachment right around the thighs (I’m sure you remember those; they were quite a rage when I was growing up). They are a fashion disaster in every sense and they certainly don’t cover any part you are trying to cover; rather it draws attention to it. A picture of me grinning in a frilly turquoise one-piece sits proudly in the family living room—I apparently took part in a swimming gala wearing one. It serves as a frequent reminder of how far I have come in the fashion awareness department.
Fast forward the wonder years to the pageant era—The Femina Miss India contest has a swimsuit round and for the first time, I walked around in a swimsuit with no water in sight. It was a bright orange, velvet (yes, velvet) one-piece, and I wore it with great confidence. Isn’t that what models are made of—the ability to wear even the most ridiculous things with immense self assurance? One more swimsuit round at the Miss International pageant in Tokyo, and I was released from the requirement of wearing a swimsuit to work. Partly, because I come from a conservative family that would be alarmed if I ever appeared in a swimsuit calendar and partly because mentally, I never quite rid myself of my erstwhile “Silk Smitha” thighs. (The pageants were an exception as it was compulsory for a participant).
As a model, I have done a few swimsuit shoots—they have taken me to exotic locales from Goa to Seychelles, posing on the deck of a 66ft yacht or perched atop a rock formation in the middle of the sea. This was the pre-Kingfisher calendar era, so most of the shots had us wearing sarongs or beach dresses showing a hint of swimwear. In fact, we used to fight for outfits that covered us more. Now, of course, there are a lot more swimwear shoots. The influx of international magazines and the huge popularity of the Kingfisher calendar has put swimwear right on top of the fashion rung.
Nowadays, I only wear a swimsuit on beach holidays or to swim in the pool. I have most variations of the swimsuit—bikinis, one-pieces, tankinis, you name it. And they have many uses—some not fit for swimming, but merely for lounging by the beach and others for swimming/snorkelling/jet skiing and a variety of other water sports that I love. Most recently, I wore one to swim in a baby rapid in the Ganges (fabulous feeling, by the way).
Coming back to swimwear, it’s an essential part of one’s wardrobe. It doesn’t take up too much space and certainly helps you keep in shape (after all, it covers no flaws). A swimsuit is not just something you wear to go for a swim—it is a fashion statement after all. So, like many other fashion trends such as skinny jeans or tulip skirts, you have to be able to carry it off well and feel good in it. Ab crunches and lunges are what I do to keep in shape besides yoga or Pilates.
I buy my swimsuits from Ralph Lauren and Gotex, they make beautiful ones. A lot of beach towns from Male to Mauritius sell local brands that are cheap and add a lot of colour. Dress yours up by draping a sarong over it or wear one under a pair of shorts and a ganji (vest). Add some bangles or a neck piece, maybe a few anklets and a wide-brimmed hat, and all of a sudden you are ready for lunch or a walk. And you are ready to plunge back in the water the moment you return. These days, those are the only frills I attach to my swimwear.
Shvetha Jaishankar was Miss India International 1998 and is promoter, Globosport